| Ralf E Krueger |
Hanover, Germany (dpa) – Motorists snarled in traffic have long dreamed of a vehicle that can take to the air and whisk them out of a jam.
Now a German designer says he’s cracked it and can start exporting once his design gets its bodywork and a full licence for road use.
The prototype of the flying car has proved itself in air tests and is halfway to being road certified, says Michael Werner, the engineer, test pilot and director of Fresh Breeze, a small company with 20 staff in the eastern state of Lower Saxony.
Locals in Bissendorf are already accustomed to seeing what looks like a skeletal beach buggy buzzing around town, complete with temporary red number plate, while transport authorities decide whether to allow it free rein on the roads.
“I use it to nip out for bread rolls in the morning,” says Werner, who regards the vehicle not so much as a car that flies but a flying machine that can drive.
A unique type of rear axle transmission propels the vehicle on the ground, while the rear propeller does the work when airborne.
And if all goes well, light car bodywork will be added to the first pre-production models as early as 2015.
“Next year we want to exhibit a completed unit at the Lower Saxony government’s summer festival in Berlin,” says Cathrine Kniep of the Niedersachsen Aviation funding initiative, which has supported the project.
While praising the “huge innovative input” of Werner’s little company, Kniep also notes that the main obstacle is still “mainly in its authorisation as a road vehicle”.
That said, Germany’s technical inspection association has given go-ahead for the ultimate road test on the national highways, or Autobahn, where Werner assures that his three-wheeled racer can clock 200km/h.
In the air, meanwhile, it is classed as an ultralight aircraft. The operating principle is simple: Go by road to the launch site, unfold the propeller, unfurl the canopy, switch on and away you go.
The design has already drawn interest in countries with large expanses of plains and desert, says Werner.
And since there is little of this in Germany, they are looking further afield: “We could easily sell 300 units in South Africa or the United Arab Emirates.”
The first flying car prototype actually appeared in 1912 but nothing has ever been successfully marketed, even though similar projects are underway in the United States, the Netherlands and Slovakia.
Paul Moller, founder of Moller International, has nurtured his flying car vision for decades, as did Tesla founder Elon Musk and others whose efforts were varyingly dubbed the Aircar, Skycar or Carplane.
Werner is in close contact with Germany-based Australian designer John Brown, who has been developing a double-hulled Carplane with extendable fixed wings since 2008.
For now, Brown concedes, Werner and his baby are a nose ahead of him in the race to take cars into the air.
So why does Werner hope to succeed where others failed?
“The balancing act between flying and driving is especially problematic for bureaucratic reasons,” says the designer, who together with his business partner Marcus Mueller are wisely adhering to what they know works: Paraglider flight capacity. “As John knows, fixed wings are so much harder to stow away.”
But they also face plenty of technical challenges. A Rotax engine as used in many two-seater aircraft had to be ruled out due to its incompatibility with roadworthiness and environ-mental regulations.
Instead they opted for a 150-hp, two-cylinder engine with turbocharging as used in snowmobiles.
The unladen 300-kilogramme finished car will also be fitted with anti-lock braking system and catalytic converter.
“We have now solved 90 per cent of the problems,” says Werner, who in the past also designed flying bicycles and trailers.
But can such vehicles provide a viable solution for countries with traffic congestion?
He is sceptical since he is aiming not at frustrated drivers but pilots who want to drive home after landing in the wide open.